Building thought leadership

As the world continues its roller coaster ride due to the pandemic, few other issues stand out. Take for instance the case of #Blacklivesmatter. Whether it is in the stance that is taken or the view that is shared by CEOs of Apple, Google, Verizon and others, leaders of these organisations have come forward with their support for people and equal treatment for all. What makes these voices stand out is the thought leadership they represent. In the content of their speeches. In the actions that these organisations have taken. In the support they have shown for a just cause. It is not mere lip service. It goes beyond verbose statements.

The media as we knew of it a decade ago has changed tremendously. There are a multitude of channels and mediums today to share your voice and opinion. Problem is that it has also become very easy to either lose your way in the cacophony out there or get drowned by the incessant noise over trivial issues that has opened the doors for everyone and anyone to jump in and tell their piece.

More the reason then that people associated with PR and communications need to work with their clients and organisations respectively to be heard above all this din. And to be perceived as a thought leader.

The start

How does one begin the journey then? Where do one start from? Start from your purpose, vision and mission statement. These should be your north star and guide you in all your communications and positioning. This is where you start building your reputation framework and the key messaging around it. Employees of the organisation should be able to live and breathe the purpose, vision and mission of his/her company. Thought leadership is not a privilege limited to leaders. Every single employee is a harbinger of the ethos of the company. They need to be equipped with the right tools and messages to consolidate the positioning.

The issues

It is critical that the organisation speaks on issues/topics that are aligned with its overall purpose. If your organisation prides itself in its research and innovation capabilities, then it makes sense for it to take a stance on propagation of a predictable policy environment that encourages innovation and incentivises new discoveries. The opposite is more critical – that the organisation takes a stance when innovation is threatened and there is little or no thought to put in place a robust policy framework encouraging the same. 

The content/messaging

Now that you are aware of the organisation’s purpose, vision and mission, it is time to translate it into messaging. Keep your language simple. Most of us do the mistake of framing long messages that tend to get lost in its journey of creating impact. The trick is to have short, simple messages that has a strong emotional connect within it. And of course, ensure your messaging is consistent all through.

Create an ecosystem approach

Work on multiple messages – expand the thought to cover the ecosystem. When you bring in the ecosystem as a natural expansion of your core purpose, you are able to amplify your leadership across multiple issues. For example, if you are associated with a manufacturing company, your messaging and positioning can be expanded to cover issues related to natural resources, sustainability, pollution, livelihood creation, skill development and so on…

Be seen. Be heard.

Now that you have the messaging it is time to develop the communication framework. Identify who your audience is, who will speak where, when and how. Thought leadership is a great way to stand out and consolidate your brand and reputation. Pick your issues wisely and strategise on the best platforms to be seen and heard. Whether it is through an Op-ed or a speaker slot at a conference or advocacy at government roundtables; make sure your core messaging stands out.

A true thought leadership message resonates with the audience only when it is authentic, genuine and consistent.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Sarita Bahl
Country Group Head CSR at Bayer - South Asia
Sarita Bahl leads the Corporate Social Responsibility function for Bayer South Asia and is also the Director – Bayer Prayas Association. Prior to this, she successfully oversaw the communications and public affairs function for Bayer South Asia. Over her three decades of professional experience, Sarita has held multiple roles across diverse industries, public sector, trade associations, MNCs and the Not-for-profit sector. An alumnus of Tata Institute of Social Science and the Swedish Institute of Management Program, Sarita specializes in stakeholder engagement, sustainability and communications. She is passionate about animals (is mother to a female cat), books and movies.

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